Arsenal and Emery have an identity crisis as Ozil snubbed again

Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Manchester City v Arsenal, Premier League, 2019
The Gunners fell to another convincing away defeat against Manchester City, as Unai Emery once started with Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey on the bench

Same old Arsenal.

No matter what Unai Emery does he cannot seem to jolt an away-day performance from his players at the minute.

Their away form under Arsene Wenger last season was pathetic – winning only four – and they are slumping in that regard again.

The last time they took three points outside the Emirates was back in November at Bournemouth. Since then they’ve played six, drawn two and lost the rest.

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There was little surprise in the result against Manchester City, who were attempting to rectify the disappointment of a midweek defeat to Newcastle.

Arsenal made the same mistake as Newcastle did – allowing Sergio Aguero to score within a minute. And like Newcastle, Arsenal rode their luck.

In the cold light of day they’ll realise that Shkodran Mustafi should have been whistled for a penalty against Aguero and Aymeric Laporte’s header which was ruled out for offside should have stood.

But where Newcastle learned their lessons, Arsenal wilted. The equaliser was one of those rare occasions where they got near Ederson’s goal but they were tepid thereafter.

Matteo Guendouzi was industrious in midfield but him aside Arsenal had very little bite to their game. There have been problems with injuries – no Hector Bellerin, Sokratis Papastathopoulos or Granit Xhaka in the lineup here – but Emery didn’t help things by surrendering what could have been an attacking advantage.

Sergio Aguero Manchester City vs Arsenal Premier League 2018-19

It was hard to know in a flat midfield four where a threat was going to materialise from. Alex Iwobi was the only recognised creator across the quartet and Emery pinned his hopes on combinations between Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang to get the job done.

But neither saw enough of the ball and certainly not near enough the goal.

In that regard it was strange to see Emery opt for neither Aaron Ramsey nor Mesut Ozil from the start. Ozil has not been trusted to start a game like this for a long time but the fact that Ramsey didn’t play against Cardiff midweek might have hinted that he would be in for a start here.

That might have given Arsenal an extra dimension from midfield but it was clear that Emery was terrified of the threat Pep Guardiola’s team would pose in possession.

The Ciy manager opted to start without a recognised left-back with Laporte dropping into that position when Arsenal had the ball. When City gained possession, they dropped into a back three. And as early as the first 40 seconds, Arsenal were unsure what to do with the spare man Laporte.

He created the opener for Aguero – who hit another devastating hat-trick – and consigned the Gunners again to that sinking feeling.

It’s hard to know what Emery wants Arsenal to be right now. Their shape and composition here was unfamiliar. There is little in the way of continuity in terms of style and personnel across the biggest games they play.

Six months on and we are still looking to define how Emery wants to play. Are they a counter-attacking team? Dominant on the ball? Wing-backs or full-backs? One holding midfielder or two? Is there space for a playmaker? Does he like to play with one up top or two?

Still these questions are being asked. Maybe Emery and the players are crystal clear about what they are trying to achieve but it doesn’t come across in how they do their jobs.

At this stage of their development, Arsenal fans would settle for something to cling to; a promise of better days to come. That 22-match unbeaten run earlier on in the season prompted some false hope that Emery and Arsenal were already there but any such optimism is long gone.

The fact that Ramsey and Denis Suarez were sent on together to rescue the game – one about to leave the club, the other on loan – says everything about the short-term thinking at the club and the lack of direction.

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Things aren’t going to get any easier either with fixtures away against Spurs and in-form Wolves looming on the horizon.

A top-four place was hoped for at the outset of the season but Arsenal would appear to be a long way off the standard. Chelsea got their act together on Saturday, Spurs are closer to the title than the battle for the fourth Champions League place and Manchester United are coming like a train.

The ineptitude of other teams is an unreliable ally; Arsenal need to get their act together.